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FITCHBURG, Massachusetts – From the opening tee shot, Rob Labritz (Pound Ridge, NY) knew he was going to be in attack mode. In a horse race-like finish that saw five different players hold a share of the lead in the final round, Labritz made all five of his birdies on the front nine and emerged victorious down the stretch to win the 111th Massachusetts Open Championship at Oak Hill Country Club.
Labritz, who turned 50 on May 31, finished with a three-day score of 5-under-par 205 with a 1-under in the final round to win by one stroke on a sunny and breezy Wednesday afternoon. He joins Jim Browning (1965 winner) as the only other player to win the title at age 50.
“It means the world to me to come out here and compete against the best qualifiers, winners, and champions,” Labritz said. “To have my son (Matthias) out here with me as a caddie, it’s beyond words.”
Ben Spitz (George Wright Golf Course), who played in the final group after ending Round 2 in second place, was the low amateur and took home the Commonwealth Cup after finishing 4-under 206 overall.
Labritz won the Clarence G. Cochrane Memorial Trophy and the $15,000 prize out of the $75,000 professional purse. The Massachusetts Open Championship marks the only Mass Golf event that is open to both amateurs and professionals.
As any championship should, the 111th Massachusetts Open came down to how the top competitors managed the 18th hole.
After making five birdies to make the turn 7-under, a pair of bogeys from Rob Labritz brought him back to the pack. The pressure was applied all day long as the lead shifted between Labritz, Ben Spitz, Shawn Warren (Falmouth, Maine), Brad Adamonis (TPC Boston), and Max Theodorakis (Danbury, CT).
Playing in the second-to-last group, Labritz made a three-putt bogey on the 16th and then found out he was tied for the lead. He made par on the 17th and was then thinking he’d need a birdie on the 18th to pull off the victory. After hitting his drive into the left rough, he initially had an 8-iron in hand for his approach but then switched to a 7-iron. The move paid off as he struck it about 12 feet left of the flag.
“I thought I was gonna catch a little flyer, and then we caught a gust,” Labritz said. “So I said let’s switch to the seven, and just committed to it, made a good sound swing, and put it in there to 12 feet.”
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His birdie putt was on line, and he shouted “come on, come on” as it rolled toward the cup but rested just on the edge. “I put a really good stroke on it and just caught the edge, but it all worked out,” Labritz said.
By that point, Warren and Theodorakis had both made bogey on 18 after missing the green in regulation. Warren was short right in the rough on his approach, and he two-putted for bogey. Theodorakis, the co-leader with Adamonis after Day 1, had his second shot from 80 yards blocked out by the tree on the right side, and it rolled back down the fairway. Despite a pitch to about 10 feet short of the cup, he missed the par put to finish 4-under overall.
“Honestly, I don’t even want the tee shot back,” said Theodorakis, the 2020 Connecticut Open Champion. “I didn’t think I could hit it that far down and have the tree problem. The lie wasn’t great and then the putt, that’s the one I really want back. It wasn’t a good putt at all, I pulled it. It is what it is.”
Spitz, who was the only other player at 5-under by the time he reached the 18th, put his drive down the left-middle section of the fairway, but his approach hit the false front of the green and rolled back about 30-40 yards into the fairway. Despite a good pitch that left him above the hole, the southpaw missed the par putt to secure the win for Labritz.
Brad Adamonis began the day in the lead at 6-under but faltered in the final round. Despite shooting even-par on the front nine, he shot a 40 on the back nine.
“That’s the way I figured the course would play,” Adamonis said. “It’s the kind of course where if you hit it in the rough, you’re defensive. The greens weren’t really super firm, so if you’re in the rough, you’re just trying to make a par. Whereas the other day when it was wet out, you could kind of just throw it right at the pin and it would stop. Now the greens are rolling a little more, so it became a little trickier and some of the slopes come into play.”
Labritz, a three-time winner of the New York Open and 2019 winner of the Rhode Island Open, was excited to capture the victory but was a little teary-eyed after accepting the championship trophy.
“I’m an emotional guy and I work my tail off at the game,” said Labritz, the Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Westchester County, New York. “I work a lot, I practice a lot and my family sacrifices are immense. It seems like they’re the ones that take the brunt of the sacrifices all so I can do this. Anytime this happens, it’s pretty emotional. It means the world to me to come out here and compete against the best qualifiers, winners, and champions. To have my son (Matthias) out here with me as a caddie, it’s beyond words.”
As for his start, Labritz said there was no doubt he wanted to be aggressive out the gate. He ended up making birdie on all the odd-numbered holes on the front nine to keep himself in the mix.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned if you’re gonna win tournaments you have to attack,” he said. “Matthias and I, we talked this morning and we just said let’s just go for it, just hit driver everywhere and attack every flag. My short game has been on point. II worked really hard on it so I wasn’t scared about missing greens or anything, so we just came out here with the mentality of hitting driver everywhere, and then making some putts.”
Ben Spitz (George Wright Golf Course) referred to the Low Amateur competition as the “tournament within the tournament.” And while he didn’t take home the biggest prize in the Mass Open, he still had his best-ever finish in the event and finished as the low amateur again, last doing so in 2013. With 72 amateurs in this event, more than any in the past decade, it’s a phenomenal accomplishment for the 2006 Mass Amateur champion.
“It will be nice to take home a trophy at least, a consolation prize,” Spitz said. “That’ll be nice. It’s always an honor to be low amateur. There’s a lot of good amateurs here, so to be able to be on top of that, it’s special. It’s great.”
Though he couldn’t quite get all the way to the top of the leaderboard, Spitz still sank two birdies and played a solid three rounds at the Open. He posted scores of even, 5-under, and 1-over. He moved into contention late Tuesday with a birdie, eagle, birdie combo on holes 6-8 and finishing the round with a par on the 9th.
Round 3 on Wednesday featured wind and sunshine, a stark change from the rain and clouds that covered a large portion of the first two rounds.
“Yeah, I mean [holes 6-8] actually probably played a little easier today,” Spitz said. “Seven played downwind, so I hit three clubs less. Eight played downwind, like two clubs less. They just played different, so you had to adjust on the fly. The greens firmed up with the wind, it was nice to get a birdie on seven and get back to even. Then birdied 10, so I took advantage of par 5s, which is what you got to do out here.”
Although he finished 1-over in the final round, Spitz was still happy with how he played.
“I played better today,” he said. “I was a little up with the driver. It just kind of would be rolling into the rough. Rough to fairway out here is a lot different. You don’t have much control over the lies. My short game was good though, got up and down on the backside here and there and just kind of grinded it out.”
Spitz will be back in action in July for the 113th Mass Amateur at Brae Burn Country Club. If he does play well there, don’t expect him to do any scoreboard watching because he did not do so during Wednesday’s round at Oak Hill.
“I wasn’t looking at all,” he said. “I had no idea, not until I came to the scorer’s table and they told me. You kind of have a feeling. It could have been maybe one or two guys getting to 6 or 7-under. It was just a tough day out there. You didn’t really see anything low. I had no idea where I stood, so I’m just trying to make every put.”
Out of the entire field of 150 players in the Mass Open, just one managed to shot under par in all three rounds of play. That honor belonged to David Pastore (Stamford, CT), who carded back-to-back 69s through 36-holes and then finished with a 2-under 68. In the final round, he made eagle on the 10th and made birdie on the 18th.
“It’s definitely something I’m proud of, to be able to be consistent, but also put up a decent number no matter what,” Pastore said. “In the first round, I was hitting it close but the putter wasn’t great. Then, I was better with the putter, but it was tougher conditions during the second round.”
Pastore, who played in the PGA Tour’s 2020 Travelers Championships in Cromwell, Connecticut, is experienced in big-time events. He has played in the 2015 Travelers Championship, the Farmers Insurance Open, and The Honda Classic in 2019. He’s also exempt into the Barbasol Championship, taking place this July in Louisville, Kentucky. After playing this week, he said he’s confident about his game moving forward.
“Overall, all parts of my game were kind of good at one point this week,” Pastore said.
After the completion of Round 3 of the Mass Open, 14 players packed up their cars and headed 90 minutes south toward Connecticut. On Thursday, those players are scheduled to compete in the Travelers Championship pre-qualifier at Ellington Ridge Country Club.
The number of players advancing to the Open Qualifier on Monday will be determined by the size and strength of the field. Last year, 19 players advanced out of 90 players in the field. Right now, 117 players are entered.
One of them is Northboro native Tim Umphrey, a former UConn standout who turned pro within the past year. Umphrey said while at UConn played Ellington Ridge and TPC River Highlands, the latter being the site of the Travelers.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Umphrey, who shot even-par 70 on Wednesday and finished T28. “I’m just trying to same game plan as today: hit fairways and greens. For qualifiers the goal is just to get through, so, keep it simple.”
Umphrey also said he’s been in touch with his former UConn teammate Jimmy Hervol, who was set to play in the Mass Open but qualified for the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday. Umphrey said every week they play each other’s home course.
“His game is solid, and I think he’s got a good chance at least make the cut,” Umphrey said of Hervol.
Here are the players from Round 3 of the Mass Open who are set to play in the first qualifying stage on Thursday: Max Theodorakis, Kevin Gately, Michael Martel, Kyle Gallo, Michael Graboyes, Jack Boulger, James Hazen, Matthew Lowe, Fletcher Babcock, Kevin Gately, Nick Antonelli, and John Stoltz.
Other Mass Open competitors who are trying to qualify: Owen Quinn, Danny Frodigh, Cameron Moniz, Todd Greene, Ian Thimble, Clark Robinson, Luke Graboyes, Jay Card, and Timothy Picard.
South Hamilton’s Kirk Hanefeld was just 16 when he won the 1973 New England Junior Amateur at Oak Hill with a two-day score of 143. With a 72-70–142 in the final round, the 65-year-old Hanefeld bested that mark by one stroke to finish up play in the Mass Open.
“It doesn’t look like I’ve gotten much better since then,” Hanefeld said with a chuckle.
Hanefeld, who has played on the PGA Tour Champions, retired earlier this year as the Director of Instruction at Salem Country Club, which has allowed him to travel more often. In fact, after Wednesday’s round, he hopped in the car and took the eight-hour drive out to Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, to try to qualify for the Senior British Open, an event he’s played in 7 times.
Hanefield has won several NEPGA sectional events and state opens in Rhode Island and Maine. Yet even in retirement, he plans to keep coming back as many times as possible to try and win the Mass Open for the first time.
“I always expect a lot of myself,” Hanefeld said. “Reality has to kick in that at 65, I’m not going to be as competitive anymore, and I do the best I can with what I have.”
The 2022 Mass Open will take place Wednesday, June 8 to Friday, June 10 at Longmeadow Country Club. The club has hosted the Mass Open three times, most recently in 2002. Longmeadow will also celebrate its 100th anniversary next year.
Winning any open championship is difficult for an amateur. It’s only happened eight times at the U.S. Open. Since the first Mass Open in 1905, only five amateur competitors have been able to claim the top prize: Jesse Guilford (1919 & 1929), Francis Ouimet (1932); Don Hoenig (1954); Kevin Johnson (1986); and Kevin Quinn (1999). Some have come close, including Matt Parziale who finished runner-up twice (2009 & 2014).
Here is a look at the top amateur finishes dating back to Kevin Quinn’s victory in 1999:
|2021||Ben Spitz||T2||Oak Hill CC|
|2019||Colin Brennan||9||Vesper CC|
|2017||Michael Thorbjornsen/Billy Walthouse||T5||TGC at Sacconnessett|
|2016||Matt Hutchins||T3||Worcester CC|
|2015||Ben Spitz||T13||Black Rock CC|
|2014||Matt Parziale||T2||Weston GC|
|2013||Ben Spitz||T4||Woodland GC|
|2012||Chris Congdon/Tony Grillo||T10||Walpole CC|
|2011||Chris Congdon/Brian Higgins||T6||Oak Hill CC|
|2010||Mike Calef/Richy Werenski||T11||Wellesley CC|
|2009||Matt Parziale||T2||Belmont CC|
|2008||Mike Calef||T3||Stockbridge GC|
|2007||Bill Drohen/Brian Higgins||T11||Kernwood CC|
|2006||Jim Renner||5||Charles River CC|
|2005||Tim Acquaviva||7||Vesper CC|
|2004||Frank Vana, Jr.||7||Pleasant Valley CC|
|2003||Eric McPhail||T14||Tedesco CC|
|2002||Frank Vana, Jr.||3||Longmeadow CC|
|2001||Scott Hawley/Michael Carbone||T10||Mount Pleasant CC|
|2000||Josh Hillman||T6||CC of Pittsfield|
|1999||Kevin Quinn||1||Wellesley CC|
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